There’s absolutely no doubt the Edmonton Oilers got the right man when they hired Pat Quinn as their ninth coach in franchise history.
But the right man they got was Tom Renney, who will work alongside Quinn and undoubtedly do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to the quality of on-ice product the Oilers have in the next couple of seasons.
A cynic – none of those around here – would say that the best thing about Renney is that he’s not long-time Quinn crony Rick Ley, but it goes much, much deeper than that. Renney’s strengths are Quinn’s weaknesses, so providing Renney does his job well, things could eventually work out for these guys.
Essentially, Renney will be to Quinn what Ken Hitchcock was to Quinn at the 2002 Olympics. Ask any player on that team and he’ll tell you Quinn was the big-picture guy who would not get bogged down in details. It was Hitchcock who drew up the game plans and got the players buying into a system that won them a gold medal.
I suspect that with the Oilers, Quinn will be the front man for the coaching staff. He’ll stand in front of the media every day and trade jabs with them and he’ll be more than happy to take the heat when things don’t go well. He’ll make the bold proclamations and he’ll be the one that imposes his puck-moving philosophy on the organization. He’ll take the bows when things go well and he’ll be the whipping boy when they go poorly.
But Renney will be the one most responsible for making players accountable. He’ll do almost all the teaching. He’ll be the one sitting young players down in front of the video machine to pick apart each of their shifts in minute detail. He’ll be the one pulling the levers in practice while Quinn stands at center ice with the whistle in his mouth.
You see, Quinn is not much of a details guy. At least when he ran the Toronto Maple Leafs, his practices weren’t particularly innovative or demanding. He wasn’t real big on matching lines or making in-game adjustments. He doesn’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of players in the league, something likely exacerbated by the fact that he has been out of the game for the past three seasons.
Quinn won’t be able to break down the tendencies of each of the Oilers opponents and react to them in kind. That’s where Renney will come in. He will quietly work all of those angles behind the scenes and Quinn will ensure things run smoothly.
And while he has definite ideas about the way the game should be played and can articulate them well, Quinn is not much for fundamentals. The fact of the matter is Quinn’s teams in Toronto bordered on abysmal defensively and were regularly saved by the goaltending of Curtis Joseph and, later, Ed Belfour. It will be up to Renney to teach the young Oilers what to do when they don’t have the puck. Quinn will take care of telling them what to do when they have it on their sticks.
Where Quinn will have the greatest impact as coach of the Oilers is in how the players respond to him. He possesses a gruff exterior, but Quinn genuinely cares about the players who play for him and his single goal is to make each of them better and extract the most out of their abilities. And he can work with and relate to young players, as evidenced by the aplomb with which he guided the world junior team to a gold medal.
Most of all, Quinn receives loyalty from his players because he places so much faith in them. He rarely sits out a veteran no matter how badly he is playing and will defend his players to the extreme. For sure, you won’t see Quinn publicly ripping Dustin Penner the way Craig MacTavish did last season. The first thing he will likely do is sit Penner down and try to convince him that he was once an impact player in the league and can be one again.
And if Penner can’t respond to that kind of coddling from his coach, then shame on him.
Both Renney and Quinn have a successful past with Oilers GM Steve Tambellini. Will Quinn win the Stanley Cup, the only major accomplishment that has eluded him, with the Oilers? Probably not. But the Oilers will almost certainly be better and a lot more exciting to watch.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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